Monday morning after breakfast I phoned the office of our local pediatrician, Dr. Traverse. Due to the staunch resistance my parents felt towards a transplant, Harry and I had decided that a meeting with Dr. Traverse might settle some of their anxiety. His receptionist listened patiently as I explained our desire to meet with Dr. Traverse as soon as possible. She consulted with the doctor and then booked us for a 4:30 appointment that same day.
I tried to get the boys started on their school work for the day but my heart was not in it. In the afternoon the phone rang just as Andrew asked me to read to him. Worry nagged at me as I watched him quietly return to play upstairs. He looked so tired and lethargic. What could I do to make him healthy? I felt so helpless and so guilty.
We had tried eliminating sugar and milk and white flour from his diet. But it was hard for a little boy to understand why he had to give up his favorite foods. He did his best though, and stoically denied himself desserts and goodies. He obediently swallowed vitamins and pills, but detested drinking some of the other herbal remedies. At times it all seemed so futile to me. Was it really helping to take herbal products when the chemotherapy was making such an onslaught on his whole system?
As I answered the phone it was a relief to hear Tilly’s voice on the other end. I shared my worries with her while she listened quietly. After hearing me out, she gently questioned whether I should be fretting and fussing when I could be enjoying my son and my time with him. That helped change my perspective. She kept the conversation short and again urged me to spend time with the children instead of trying to analyze Andrew’s diet. I called him back down as soon as we hung up and spent the rest of the afternoon reading and playing games with the boys.
At 4:15 a neighbor came over to babysit while I left to meet Harry at the doctor's office. Mom and Dad arrived shortly after we did and to my surprise had brought my sister Liz along. As a registered nurse she had informed herself about Andrew's disease and was keenly interested in Dr. Traverse's perspective. I was pleased to have her there knowing that her medical knowledge could absorb Dr. Traverse's information in a much more efficient manner than we would be able to.
Dr. Traverse greeted us warmly albeit with a sober face, realizing the crisis we were in. He seated us in a semi-circle around his desk and as he sat down Harry began. "Dr. Traverse, we really appreciate you taking the time to see us. As you know, we are being advised to treat Andrew with a bone marrow transplant, however, we aren't sure that that is the best option. Could you give us your opinion of Andrew's situation?"
"I was shocked when I heard that Andrew had relapsed," Dr. Traverse began. "In all the years of my practice I have treated about 12 A.L.L. patients and of those 12 only 2 relapsed. Accute Lymphocytic Leukemia is the most curable cancer. Few children with A.L.L. die. The chemo is almost always effective in putting them into remission. Now, why Andrew relapsed we don't know, but it is highly unusual."
"What would you say is the best form of treatment for Andrew at this point?" we asked.
He paused thoughtfully.
"You have a choice of chemo--which would be another 2 or 3 years--or, you can have a bone marrow transplant which might take up to a year. Now if Andrew didn't have a good donor match then you would want to consider chemo, but with the perfect match that they have found for him, you would undoubtedly be better off with the BMT."
I noticed my father looking agitated.
"Dr. Traverse, what about going with alternative health methods like ozone treatments, interferon, chelation therapies, and herbal remedies?" I quickly inserted.
Dr. Traverse's face took on a rather forbidding look.
"Herbs! Herbs are fine when you have minor ailments, but herbs will not cure leukemia. We had a child brought into the emergency room last month. Her parents tried to cure her with alternative methods and she died! She died a terrible, tragic death!"
His dramatic words silenced us. In the quietness Dad cleared his throat and slowly began to speak.
"We understand that a bone marrow transplant brings with it much suffering for the patient. We cannot justify subjecting Andrew to this type of pain when we have no guarantee that the bone marrow transplant would be a success."
"Yes, there is pain," agreed the Doctor. "There will be rejection of the body to the new bone marrow cells. However, even the rejection can be controlled with newly developed drugs and usually burns itself out after a matter of time. Then, in a year's time you have a child that is cancer-free!"
"But what if the transplant doesn't work and Andrew dies," Dad persisted.
"That is a possibility but if you don't try it you will have to live with the awful regret that it might have worked. And if you don't do it then Andrew dies anyways."
"Yes, that’s exactly my point. If he's going to die anyways, we want it to be the least painful death," my father emphasized.
The chilling words that the doctor said next seemed to be God-ordained as they brought about an amazing climax.
"And you think that Andrew will not suffer if he dies a 'natural' death?" Dr. Traverse responded. As the words hung in the air over us waiting for our heavy hearts to absorb them, I glanced at my father and somehow knew that his mind was doing a complete turn-around.
"Could you describe what would happen in such an event?" my father questioned. The tension in my heart was almost more than I could bear. It felt wearisome beyond belief to be discussing Andrew's death and yet the light was about to break through.
"Well, he would slowly lose the use of his limbs as fatigue would overtake him. Then as his blood cells would deteriorate he would surely develop a bacterial infection in his lungs which would kill him. The other possibility would be hemorrhaging in the brain as his platelets would no longer be able to clot." These grim words hit all of us--but particularly my father--like a freight train, blowing apart his cherished hope that Andrew could be spared pain and suffering.
I saw the flash of understanding cross my father's lined face as he recognized that fact that Andrew would have to suffer regardless of which route we took. Enough had been said. There were no more questions. Our minds and hearts had more than enough bitter food to digest. We thanked the doctor again for his time, and silently went to our cars. Just before Liz went to join Mom and Dad in their vehicle she put her hand on my shoulder and said quietly, "Well, that's settled! The transplant is your only choice, right?" I smiled ruefully and nodded.
Later when I met Harry at home his first words were, "Well, that was a waste of time!"
"Why?" I asked in surprise.
"Well, for one thing, Dr. Traverse talked so quietly I'm sure your mom couldn't hear a thing, and for another thing, I couldn't understand a word he said. It all sounded like technical doctor-talk. I'm sure it could have been Greek as far as your parents were concerned."
"I'm not so sure," I responded thoughtfully. "I thought Dad did a complete 360 degree turn in his mind when Dr. Traverse talked about dying a natural death."
"You think so?" Harry said incredulously. "That sure passed me by."
"We'll find out when we go there for supper tonight," I responded.
Mom's kitchen was humming with family and relatives when we arrived. An aunt and uncle were visiting and so a family gathering was in order. There was no opportunity to talk about our conference with the doctor and so I concentrated on enjoying this unexpected visit with loving relatives. After the meal, as I was carrying dirty dishes from the dining room into the kitchen, Dad followed me and putting his arm around me said quietly, "Mom and I think you're doing the right thing by going ahead with the transplant."
My heart was still singing that evening as I read in my Bible before bedtime,
"Look on me and answer...
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death..
But I trust in your unfailing love;
I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me."